Enjoying West Virginia Heritage Food at Lost Creek Farm

By Charleen - October 14, 2022

The Farm & Forage Dinners at Lost Creek Farm are truly an unforgettable experience. After bumping and jostling down a narrow gravel road, you emerge into another world -- a gracious warm-white farmhouse, lit by the angled rays of the setting sun that transform into strings of fairy lights. Chef Mike Costello and Chef Amy Dawson and staff work their magic for a seamlessly perfect evening filled with easy-going camaraderie, cultural education, and a series of creatively interpreted dishes based in local traditions and heritage flavors. Not only is each dish delicious, but also each story and each bite form interwoven connections that build in a culinary crescendo before descending gently for a perfect, lightly sweet landing. We are already strategizing our return next year... 

1880's farmhouse with cider making to the left
Lou's ravioli : roasted chicken : turnips several ways : brown butter

We discovered Lost Creek Farm through happy serendipity. We happen to be good friends with a couple whose daughter moved to West Virginia. She discovered Lost Creek Farm after conversations with her patients often involved reminiscing about treasured culinary traditions and worrying about their loss. While exploring this topic further by googling West Virginia heritage foods, she came across Lost Creek Farm.
Lost Creek Farm originally belonged to Chef Amy Dawson's great, great grandparents. With a focus on "Heritage-inspired mountain cuisine," Amy and her partner Chef Mike Costello have traveled around to promote Appalachian culture, collecting, growing, using and preserving heirloom seeds along with the stories of the people who brought these elements of their culture and resourcefulness to the area. Rather than being ashamed of recipes and traditions arising out of poverty, these stories speak to the value of resilience, creativity and community. 

Mike and Amy welcoming us to the Farm & Forage Supper Club

In some ways, their work reminds me of the work of Grace Young, the Stir-Fry Guru, who steadfastly refused to let the 2000 year old history of the wok die. This simple cooking vessel is really the only pot or pan that one needs -- not only for stir-fry, but also to deep-fry, steam, braise, simmer, boil, sear, roast and even smoke poultry and fish. The art of stir-frying was born out of a need to conserve fuel; food is cut up so that it can cook quickly using the bare minimum of fuel. Yet, in China and among the Chinese diaspora, the inexpensive wok had fallen out of favor and the artistry of hand-hammered woks was all but gone, unappreciated. Thanks to Grace and the Wok Wednesdays group, people around the world are rediscovering the joys of wokking!

In a similar manner, Mike and Amy are ambassadors for Appalachia, bringing together new communities through traveling pop-ups and this supper club to share an appreciation for the stories, traditions and flavors of the region. During the pandemic, they even offered classes online to Patreon members. We took an online class making buckwheat hand pies, and were captivated. 
After watching their YouTube video, my husband and I also made our own batch of communion wafers, which hold a special memory for Mike, symbolizing people coming together as a community to work towards a common purpose.

Farm & Forage Dinners

With this background, we jumped at the opportunity to sign up for one of the Farm & Forage Dinners for the 2022 season. Reserved back in March, we eagerly anticipated our fall dinner in October. 

As suggested by the title, the meal combines heirloom crops with ingredients foraged from the nearby woods. Indeed, at our dinner, it became clear that this marriage of farmed and foraged ingredients create a unique terroir evident in each of the 6 courses, plus the 3 amuse-bouche surprises.  

Course I

Communion wafer : Bourbon sage apple butter : fresh farmer's cheese : fried sage
Communion wafer : smoked ham : sweet and spicy six-pepper chow chow

Lost Creek Farm is reached by traversing a long, narrow, bumpy driveway until it opens up on hillside gardens and a gracious two-story farmhouse lit by the slanting rays of the sun. As we walked around the corner to the front of the house, we witnessed fresh squeezed apple cider being made for us using a blend of Winesap and Jonagold apples and a tall wooden press.
The house sits on the top of a flower-lined hill descending to a grassy valley and then rising to a tree-lined ridge with the early changes of fall colors. As we went inside to deposit our Arsenal Cider (Black Pepper and Grierson's Ginger flavored) and wine bottles in the dining room, I snuck a glimpse into the beautiful kitchen where Amy and Mike were hard at work preparing appetizer trays.
These communion wafers are the most delicious, crisp savory creations, originally made by Mike's grandmother and other ladies for church. They were even more delicious complemented with the sweet-creamy earthy sage-apple topping or the smoky-zesty ham-pepper combo (made extra special by sharing the name "chow chow" with the most wonderful blue-tongued companions a family can have).

Shipley Farm head cheese : pear-garlic mustard : quick-pickled green tomato

As the sky became dark and temperatures started falling, we were ushered inside to a row of four tables, each of which seated up to four people. There we enjoyed another West Virginian specialty -- salt rising bread, which utilizes bacteria to create tiny bubbles for an extra fine texture that stands up well to toasting. This particular recipe was made by Amy's great, great grandmother in this very house. The toast was topped with head cheese. 
Clockwise from left: Communion wafer with smoked ham & pepper chow chow, Communion wafer with Bourbon sage apple butter & farmer's cheese, salt-rising toast with head cheese

I had never tried head cheese before, and was reassured to learn how it was made as I had always imagined it might contain brain. It does not. Instead, it consists of bits of muscle (like any other meat) held together by a small amount of seasoned gelatin no different from a rich meaty stock. The pungent and slightly sweet garlic-pear mustard perfectly balanced the richness of the terrine and smooth texture of the toast.

Course II

Spanish sausage : heirloom beans : garden kale : rustic baguette

Next we enjoyed a warm cup of soup containing six kinds of heirloom beans with an amazing Spanish sausage called longaniza. It turns out that the zinc miners of Harrison County immigrated from Spain and their descendants still make a variety of different Spanish sausages. 
According to Wikipedia, longaniza is a pork sausage flavored with cinnamon, paprika, aniseed, vinegar and garlic. All I can say is that it was absolutely delicious with creamy potatoes and tender, young kale leaves in a comforting broth. We enjoyed it with plenty of farmhouse bread and butter.

Course III

Grilled and chilled carrots : other roots : wild and pickled onion : buttermilk-horseradish dressing

Next, it became clear that the seasonal theme of this particular Farm & Forage meal was centered on root vegetables. Our salad consisted of grilled baby carrots, arrayed with pickled onions, red and white Chioggia beets and radish slices, and some freshly foraged wild onions, all topped by drizzles of this delicious, lightly tangy horseradish-buttermilk dressing.
Following the salad, we received two small jars of pickles. The first contained zucchini slices prepared as a bread and butter pickle, and the second, a deliciously spicy dill cucumber pickle.

Course IV

Lou's ravioli : roasted chicken : turnips several ways : brown butter 

Continuing with the root vegetable theme, this amazing pasta dish led us to new heights of dining. The colors, textures and flavors in this single large ravioli, as big as a large hand pie, and the vegetables and sauce in which it nested, delighted our palates. And the history behind the dish was equally interesting.

We learned that the ravioli dough recipe came from a 93 year old gentleman, Lou Maiuri whose parents came from Italy. There is a strong Italian influence in West Virginian cuisine due to the influx of immigrants in the early 1900s to work in the coal mines. Suddenly, it all clicked -- as I had wondered why pepperoni rolls were such a strong tradition in both WV and southwest PA. 

After I got home, I looked up the interview with Lou when he was 92, which shows him carrying on the traditions of gardening like his father and making his mom's sauce and ravioli from scratch, using tomatoes canned as learned from his wife.
The ravioli we ate at Lost Creek Farm featured a filling made of the freshest chicken from Shipley's Forest Hills Farm, fire-roasted and combined with turnip greens. This was accompanied by several forms of turnip, grown from Hanover turnip seeds brought over by Charlie Radabaugh's ancesters. 
There was a rich purée beneath the ravioli forming a smooth turnip brown butter sauce, with pink pickled turnips and white turnip slices poached in the same cider that had been squeezed for us earlier. This lovely mound was topped with peppery sprays of wild cress greens. 

Course V

Next our palettes were tantalized by a perfect small bite consisting of a trout croquette served with creamed sour corn (pickled corn), round droplets of tomato aspic that resembled roe, and some shredded spruce. 
Salt-cured trout croquette and cross section. Lower right: pickled zucchini and a sweet-spicy cucumber pickle
Mike noted that his grandma's recipe collection contained lots of salmon croquettes, which had been popular back then. So they made a croquette using salt-cured, milk-poached mountain trout. Before the logging industry wiped out the trout streams in the early 20th century, it had been traditional in the West Virginian mountains to catch a bunch of trout, and bury them in salt to preserve them. The dehydrated fish would be rinsed to remove excess salt and poached in milk.

Apple-stuffed pork : garlicky Hickory Cane grits : rhubarb-shagbark soubise : leather britches

If I thought the ravioli would be the apex of the meal, I was mistaken. The culinary crescendo continued into the fifth course. After the butchering and preservation of hog meat, the pork loin was saved for a special occasion such as Thanksgiving. 

This fall entrée consisted of apple-stuffed pork loin, tender and succulent, served over something that was so creamy and delicious that I thought it was mashed potatoes until halfway through cleaning my plate when I idly wondered where the garlicky Hickory Cane grits on the menu fit onto the plate.  The Hickory Cane seed corn came from a seed saver named Terry Daniel of Raleigh County. We had guessed there might be grits and paw paw ice cream based on some of the photos posted to the Lost Creek Farm Instagram. You can certainly see why it's called a type of "dent corn."  These were the best grits I have ever had (sorry NC, GA and FL). 
The rhubarb and candied onion sauce added another really nice tart-sweet dimension to the flavor, mirroring the apple stuffing. Apparently, a soubise is a thick, white sauce consisting of pureed onions, and ours was further enriched by foraged Shagbark hickory nuts.

This amazing plate was completed by these lovely soft, but still green beans called leather britches. They are basically green beans dried by stringing them up, and then boiled with country ham and onions until they have rehydrated, absorbing the flavors. 

This reminded me of the way wrinkled, Szechuan dry-fried green beans plump back up when tossed in a hot wok with the slightly sweet, slightly sour and slightly salty sauce. These green beans are so popular with my husband's midwestern family that it has become a staple to be brought to each of our huge, rotating Thanksgiving celebrations.

Course VI

When I looked at the menu, I had thought we were wrong with our prediction of paw paw ice cream. Great was our delight when they brought out our final surprise: paw paw ice cream. Paw paws are the largest indigenous tree fruits in the United States, with a flavor reminiscent of tropical fruits and berries. Yet, they have never been commercialized as they are rarely ripe and do not last long once harvested. The ice cream was perfect for settling in among the cracks of our really, really full stomachs. 
After a service of coffee or tea (I opted for lavendar-chamomile tea), we came to the end of a truly fabulous experience. Somehow, rather than being even more full, the ice cream and tea refreshed my ability to fully enjoy dessert.

Amy's buckwheat-nutmeg cake : sorghum panna cotta : heirloom squash : toasted seeds

I am not as much of a dessert person as my husband, finding many desserts to be too sweet, and preferring to let the last tastes of a great entrée linger a bit longer. Yet, I would be hard pressed to decide which of the last three courses I liked the best.

Continuing with the hyperfresh theme, the buckwheat festival had occurred just the week before. Accordingly, we enjoyed Amy's magical buckwheat-nutmeg buttermilk cake, "iced" with a purée of heirloom Cushaw squash. 
Beside the cake, there was a disc of quivering sorghum panna cotta. Everything was topped with a crunchy Tuscan seed mix flavored with maple syrup and sumac. A sprinkle of Jacobson salt put this dessert over the top. Did I mishear or misremember a briny-earthy reference to furikake seasoning? I was too busy eating to type notes, but the lady at the next table said it was "Jacob Valley Salt from the Jonathan Jacobsen Salt Company."


After this wonderful tour de force, nearly a dozen truly innovative and delicious interpretations of West Virginia heritage foods, Mike and Amy graciously came around to chat with each group of diners. We learned so much about the diversity of traditions in this mountain state, in addition to enjoying a lot of delicious and healthy food.

As we departed past the fairy lights, we could see the nearly full moon and bright speck that is Jupiter through the gracious boughs of a large, old tree.

Learning about the West Virginia homegrown foodways, reminded me of why my ancestors value the lotus. Appreciating the food traditions arising from conditions of hardship is a lot like recognizing how a beautiful lotus emerges upright and proud above the mud that nourished its resilience.

Things to do on the way there and back again

We drove down to Lost Creek Farm by coming down I-79. We stopped first in Morgantown to enjoy the small, but well-stocked farmer's market at 400 Spruce St, with the freshest root vegetables and greens that I have seen, baked goods and handcrafted kombucha. This was one block away from the West Virginia University International Street Festival, which featured multiple student groups selling their traditional foods and imports.

Then onto Fairmont, WV to visit Valley Falls State Park, for a quick view of terraced cascades from multiple rocky vantage points. This is on the newly minted WV waterfall trail, and you can check in to "collect" watefalls.
The Rambling Root at 101 Fairmont Ave was a welcoming, low key meeting place to catch up with other members of our party. It is conveniently located less than a mile from a Tesla Supercharger. After tasting a few options from their colorful chalkboard beer list, we settled on the house Herbs without Bergers, and enjoyed their hand cut fries and That'll Do Pig sandwich, which featured delicious, tender pork with crisp, browned edges, bacon, jalapeno, gouda cheese, and slaw.
Then it was onto SpringHill Suites in Bridgeport, for a nap before dinner. The suites feature an unusually large sitting area and work space, ideal for work trips or gatherings after dinner, and was only 20-25 min from Lost Creek Farm.
On the way back home, we stopped at Coopers Rock and Raven Rock in the Coopers Rock State Forest. While Coopers Rock is only a short walk form the parking area, and features one of the #almostheaven West Virginia swings, we preferred the view from Raven Rock. This was well worth the less than 3 mile round trip hike down through woods full of bird calls and along a stream before ascending a bit to a grand view of granite cliffs and autumn trees lining the Cheat River below.
The Rising Creek Bakery just past the PA border at 115 Main St. in Mt. Morris was a great stop for brunch or lunch. Their breakfast options include salt rising bread, forming the basis of an egg, breakfast meat and white cheddar sandwich, french toast, or dipped into a rich tomato gravy -- the Appalachia version of grilled cheese (salt-rising bread has a cheesy aroma even without the cheese) and tomato soup. The lunch sandwiches are on sourdough, which I am sure is tasty, but we had come for more salt-rising bread. And the pumpkin bar cookie was justifiably recommended by the regulars.
As another option taken by one member of our group, you could enjoy Coopers Rock on the way down, and stop at The Lodge Lakefront Dining at Tygart Lake State Park.

🐾 Our dinner had indoor seating for up to 16 people. So how do you increase your chances of securing a highly coveted seat at one of these Farm & Forage Dinners?
    1) Support their mission through Patreon and get earlier access for booking. 
    2) Follow Lost Creek on Instagram as additional seats may open up because the weather is nice enough for outdoor dining or when someone can't use their tickets.

🍃 Bring a small, reusable takeout container with you. The food is so good that I cleaned every plate, but if I had a container, I would have kept half of the pork and grits to savor at home later. Polypropylene containers (#5) hold up well to dishwashing and microwaving, and I keep 2 or 3 in the trunk of every car to reduce consumption of single-use plastics like styrofoam.


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